As awareness and concern about the current and future consequences of climate change increase, more efforts are being made to develop effective public communication campaigns on the issue (Rebich-Hespanha & Rice; 2016). If you are reading this blog, you are probably concerned about the future too and would like to make a difference by creating a campaign. I am happy to help you affect positive change - let me show you three important aspects to think about when setting up a campaign related to the energy transition!
Get to know the opinion and attitude of the public
Public support research, as well as the formative evaluation process, can help to gather information about the characteristic of the audience. Both aim to create information that is tailored to the target group.
Public support is crucial for the energy transition. Support research enables us to understand the opinions and attitudes of the public and to create tailored information that can reduce public concerns. With the results of support research, you can also give administrators and other people insights into the public’s attitudes towards innovations and various topics. You can then enter the discussion and debate in a more targeted and efficient manner and these insights can be used to create campaigns (Elving, 2019).
A comprehensive formative evaluation process contains research both before and during a campaign to engage and analyze community resources and stakeholders. Moreover, meanings and contexts of relevant target behaviors are examined, and audience characteristics and media preferences get identified. Also, the research develops and tests candidate messages, and help anticipate potential barriers to campaign effectiveness. A wide range of methods can be used for such formative assessment, e.g. focus group interviews, in-depth face-to-face interviews, surveys, eye and attention tracking, physiological responses, or combinations thereof.
After this information has been gathered and the initial campaign goals set, you can decide which communication functions the visual message elements should fulfill (Rebich-Hespanha & Rice; 2016) – which leads me to the second aspect.
Find the right frame
Framing can be defined as the process by which the emphasis on a message affects the recipient’s interpretation and which can affect thoughts, behavior, and attitudes (Shah, McLeod, Gotlieb, & Lee, 2009).
Images play a special role in climate communication strategies, as they are perceived and processed faster than text (Lang, Potter, & Bolls, 2009). Visual images are supposed to fulfill a variety of functions in communication campaigns. They can be used to represent complex information in a way that is easy for the receiver to understand and digest or evoke emotions that strengthen the urgency of risks and threats (Peeples, 2013).
As an example, the image shows polar bears on melting ice sheets, intended to reinforce the message of the EDF (Environmental Defense Fund) article, explaining why fighting climate change is so urgent.
Since visual images, as already mentioned, are intended to fulfill a multitude of functions in communication campaigns (attract attention, stimulate emotional reactions, improve memorability, determine previous knowledge and attitudes or represent complex or abstract concepts), it should be explicitly assessed whether selected images fulfill the intended purpose.
When choosing the right frame as a campaign designer, it is important to take note of how audiences interpret or respond to it because visual frames have the potential to influence knowledge, attitudes, and behavior both positively and negatively.
For example, when a frame takes the form of charts or graphs like this one from IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency) in their “A Roadmap to 2050” report, it can clearly illustrate changes over time or relationships between multiple factors. On the other hand, such visual frames cannot appeal to viewers who lack the motivation or skills required to accurately interpret graphical data representations (Trumbo, 1999).
Always make sure that the images are related to the corresponding text and do not contradict each other in any way. A combination of different frames can also improve the recipient’s understanding (Rebich-Hespanha & Rice; 2016).
Repetition is the strength – right?!
As a final point, a quick reminder about an important aspect of running a campaign. It must be recognized that knowledge can be quickly forgotten and has to be repeated. This has always been said about advertising, but it also applies to educating and informing the public: repetition is the key! (Elving, 2019)
When it comes to ads, high repeat rates indicate a trusted manufacturer who believes in the quality of the product and makes an effort to promote the product. This leads to the influencing of the perception of the brand quality with thoughts like “If it is advertised a lot, it has to be good”.
But: It is important to mention that with extremely high repeat rates, the perception and attitude of the company and the brand quality deteriorated! Consumers concluded that if there is too much advertising, something must be wrong.
A variety of advertisements should be used to delay the negative effects of repetition. It has been found that different ads are more effective than repeating the same ad. Variations can therefore result in higher quality perceptions than repeating the same execution (Kirmani, 1997). So, if you want to get a specific message across with a campaign, find yourself using different variations of information and visual images rather than showing the same thing over and over again.
To cope with the great challenge of climate change, it takes many motivated people who want to contribute to change. Campaigns are a way of drawing people’s attention and getting them to act. If you are in the process of creating a campaign or you are thinking about it, this is a great contribution in the right direction! Keep it up! I hope the blog was able to show you what to look out for and I wish you the best of luck in creating a campaign!
A blog by Regina Zöchling